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Station X

Michael Smith

Average Review Rating Average Rating 8/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Channel 4 Books

Published : 1998

Copyright : Michael Smith 1998

ISBN-10 : HB 0-7522-2189-2
ISBN-13 : HB 978-0-7522-2189-2

Publisher's Write-Up

Station X tells the true story, as it has never been told before, of the amazing achievements of the codebreakers working at Bletchley Park in the Second World War.

In 1939 several hundred people - students, professors, international chess players, junior military officers, actresses and debutantes - reported to a Victorian mansion in Buckinghamshire: Bletchley Park. This was to be 'Station X', the Allies' top-secret centre for the deciphering of enemy codes.

Their task was to break the ingenious Enigma cipher used for the German high-level communications. The settings for the Enigma machine changed continually and each day the German operators had 159 million million million different possibilities. Yet against all the odds this gifted group achieved the impossible, coping with even greater difficulties to break Shark, the U-Boat Enigma, the Fish, the cipher system used by Hitler to talk to his generals.

Station X is also the story of the people involved from leading codebreakers such as Alan Turing, father of the modern computer, to the female operators who intercepted the messages. Through interviews with surviving members of Bletchley Park, Michael Smith has discovered what life was like there. In this chaotic and isolated environment they found time for drama performances, music recitals, orchestras and love affairs.

Not only did these people shorten the war by several years - they were essential to victory in the Atlantic and North Africa and to the masterminding of the D-Day landings - Station X was also the birthplace of the world's first programmable computer and the successful Anglo-American intelligence partnership.

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Chrissi (010802) Rating (8/10)

Review by Chrissi
Rating 8/10
This is the book of the Channel Four series of the same name. The series was absolutely excellent, and I set about reading more about the subject. Bletchley Park was the home of the government Code and Cipher School. These are the people who broke the German codes to read their secret messages. It still seems amazing to me that the fact that the codes were broken and the story behind it all remained a secret for so many years after the war.

This is a story about how people used their talents to help in the war effort. The original codebreakers were philosophy dons and experts in languages but they were joined and superseded by the mathematicians. It is amazing to think that they built the first programmable computer during world war two, and that lead was then let go in order to maintain the secret of Bletchley Park.

I reread this because of reading Enigma, the fictional account of Bletchley Park by Robert Harris, the book that was turned into a film. It was a film that I really liked, and I just wanted a bit more background, so I went to the bookcase and retrieved this.

For saying that this is a complicated subject, it reads very well. It sticks to the story of the people and how it was all done, without going overboard on the dry technicalities of the subject. One of the things that I like the most is the human aspect of the story - one codebreaker was recruited after a competition to complete a newspaper crossword. He did not get it in time but he went to work there anyway, it was those oblique clues and the way that people approached them that made them valuable to the codebreaking unit.

It is these little stories that make for such fascinating reading, if you liked The Code Book or Enigma, I would recommend this as a very accessible story of an amazing feat.
Chrissi (1st August 2002)

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